The Magazine Medic: Newsweek
Occasionally we are presented with a patient that is half dead. Newsweek is that kind of patient, only worse. It was once fully-meaning, officially-pronounced dead. Unfortunately, the high-profile weekly has experienced end-of-life crises repeatedly in recent years; each time it was revived by well-meaning caregivers hoping for a miracle.
It is no secret that earlier this decade Newsweek hung on basically as an intubated, catheterized and badly con- fused patient, challenged by the onset of rapidly changing conditions in the newsmagazine category. Ultimately, those conditions overwhelmed it. Its last editor, Tina Brown, relied on Barry Diller’s generosity to prop up a Newsweek that seemed to exhibit progressively magnified evidence of editorial schizophrenia. It was sad to observe.
When the cold, dead body was purchased this year (presumably for the cost of a tall latte) by a couple of young fellows with only a few years of media experience, we worried. What kind of morbidly grotesque medical experiment did these owners have in mind for reanimating a brand whose heart had already been removed?
First thing, they announced that Newsweek would henceforth be a digital brand. The print magazine would be a collateral piece of business, a luxury product for those who prefer their news on paper that smells of Upper East Side. Customers are paying $7.99 for the privilege. Most of the same content, and more, is available at Newsweek.com, free.
Surprisingly, the relaunched book is a smart, smooth read, its stories largely uncluttered by advertising. Not entirely a good thing, though, unless you’re publishing hardbound fiction. Still, what we have in the latest iteration of Newsweek is something like The Atlantic, if The Atlantic was produced by Apple Inc. Mostly, it’s a col- lection of cleanly presented essays. Up front and in back there are some faint reminders of the robust Newsweek that once gave Time a run for the money-"Conventional Wisdom Watch," takes on pop culture, and so on. But alas, the patient appears depleted when compared to its youthful scrappiness.
WHAT WE PRESCRIBE
- The now-defunct print edition of U.S. News & World Report for a time ran page after page of letters to the editor. Cost-effective, yes, but overkill. Newsweek is doing the same thing with its big FOB pictures. Too much of a good thing is not always good.
- A major BOB section is called "New World." We ask: What is this, exactly? Seems to be a catch-all for whatever doesn’t neatly fit elsewhere. Editorially convenient, but this kind of bin is probably better suited to a scrolling website.
- The culture section, called "Downtime," is not with- out merit. However, we’d suggest introducing a few sidebars to break the succession of long prose pieces.
- Re-introduce "My Turn," a (low-cost) signature section that for years set Newsweek apart from its competitors.
Newsweek is more focused than it was under Tina Brown, but time, and readers, have moved on.